The Mesa County Republican Party is trying to minimize the severity of Tina Peters’ loss of 574 ballots from the 2019 general election. Peters left them in a collection box, forgetting to count them. The Mesa County GOP characterized the matter in a February 24, 2020 press release (pdf) as “trivial” and “unfortunate.” The GOP said it was not trying to “diminish the significance of the errors,” and at the same time claimed the matter had been subject to “irresponsible sensationalism” because “no ballots were tampered with or lost,” and “no vote was changed or altered.”
The Republican Party has long made election integrity one of their prime issues, but apparently not so much when one of their own fails to count a significant number of legitimately-cast ballots.
It’s no wonder the GOP is trying to minimize the loss. The ramifications for Tina Peters could be severe, up to and including recall, and/or criminal penalties including fines, imprisonment or both.
Ballots left uncounted in a collection box are in fact tampered with through neglect. The lost ballots represent votes altered through suppression. Ballots left uncounted also renders false the vote tally the County Clerk reported to the Secretary of State.
“Neglect” and “failure to perform duties” by a county clerk are crimes under Colorado law:
Colorado laws governing the conduct of elections include “neglect” and “failure to perform their duties” among the list of behaviors that constitutes “corrupt conduct” of an election official, and says such conduct is punishable by fines, imprisonment, or both:
“1-13-107. Violation of duty.
Any public officer, election official, or other person upon whom any duty is imposed by this code who violates, neglects, or fails to perform such duty or is guilty of corrupt conduct … and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished as provided in section 1-13-111.”
1-13-111. Penalties for election offenses.
In all cases where an offense is denominated by this code as being a misdemeanor and no penalty is specified, the offender, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
1-13-112. Offenses relating to mail ballots.
Any person who, by use of force or other means … falsely makes, alters, forges, or counterfeits any mail ballot before or after it has been cast, or who destroys, defaces, mutilates, or tampers with such a ballot shall be punished by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than eighteen months, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
Arguably, a crime was committed
Through neglect and failure to do her duty, Tina Peters’ election department illegally tampered with and altered 574 ballots by treating them as though they did not exist. The law does not state that it doesn’t apply if the tampering was done unintentionally. Tina Peters was elected to be ultimately responsible for the conduct of her department.
If a driver hits a pedestrian, leaves the scene of the accident and is later caught, the driver is not excused because hitting the pedestrian was unintentional. The matter goes on to be adjudicated and the driver punished, whatever the circumstances.
The same applies here.
If political races in Mesa County were more competitive and a Democrat had won by a few hundred votes, you can be certain Mesa County Republicans would be howling from the rooftops that neglecting 574 ballots in a ballot box was a lot more than just an unforgivable breach of public trust. They’d say it was also a crime under the law.
And they very likely would have been correct.